Today’s college students grew up in a time of great political turmoil. When a little-known junior senator from Illinois swept onto the political scene many of us were still in grade school, where we cared immensely more about voting for class superlatives than voting for president. We were simply too young to understand just how different Barack Obama seemed or just how unique his promises sounded.
But just as our interest in politics began to mature, as our worldview came into clearer focus, the veneer of hope that Obama brought to Washington had already worn away. Below the façade was a stagnant economy, a slow-footed government, a slew of headline-making scandals, demonstrations of bureaucratic ineptitude, a rancorously partisan tone and a president that only seemed to show up in the months surrounding elections.
It should come as little surprise then that President Obama’s polling among young adults has gradually eroded. Even more worrying for Democrats, the younger elements of the Millennial generation—those aged 18-22—were trending conservative. In fact, Mitt Romney, not Barack Obama, won a stunning 57 percent of voters who were 18 years old in 2012. In other words, those voters whose political ideology was formed during the Obama presidency tended not to vote for Obama.
Democrats are obviously panicked at the thought of losing one of their most valuable constituencies. In just six short years they went from talk of a permanent majority, in no small part because of demographic trends, to fretting about ceding an entire generation of voters. It’s unsurprising then that Democrats are doing anything they can to win back young adults.
Emily Cahn, writing for Roll Call, reports on the latest ploy:
House Democrats will launch a series of attacks on Republicans over college affordability over the next two weeks, when members of Congress will fan out across the country for the Easter recess.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will hit 15 Republicans via advertisements in student newspapers at colleges and universities in their districts, according to a release provided first to CQ Roll Call. The ads attack these Republicans for not supporting Pell Grants — which provide funding for low-income students working toward undergraduate degrees. . .
“The Republicans made a clear statement of their priorities by casting votes that would make it more expensive for young people to attend college — priorities that stand in stark contrast to Democrats,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in the release. “We will be using the first week of Congress’s April recess to remind voters just how out of touch Republicans are on college affordability.”
It’s difficult to know where to begin when faced with a news report like this, but, we’ll do our best.
First, there’s a good chance that financial aid, including Pell Grants, actually make higher education less affordable because when you give money to consumers, demand rises, and so do prices, thereby creating a vicious cycle of subsidization and higher tuition.
Second, President Obama just proposed making college more expensive by eliminating 529 savings plan, which allow families to save for college in tax-free account. By comparison, Republicans just passed a bill to modernize and strengthen these accounts in hopes of getting more people to begin saving.
Third, Democrats have only offered plans to cure the symptoms of college affordability, whereas Republicans have ideas to cure the disease. For example, Democrats hope to alleviate the burden of student loan debt by doing things like limiting the cost of monthly payments to 10 percent of income or allowing outstanding debt to be forgiven in 20 years. But these ideas only make student loans more affordable, not college more affordable. And that’s where Republican ideas, like breaking down accreditation cartels, expanding alternative education options (like massive open online courses or competency-based learning), and incentivizing the creation of fixed-cost degrees come into play.
Today’s college students will see through Democrats’ stunt. The simple reality is that today’s young adults have heard all of the promises before, what they haven’t seen is fresh thinking and what they haven’t felt is results. Democrats may be offering up rhetoric, but Republicans are serving up solutions. So long as those trends continue the parties can expect to see college campuses becoming more conservative by the year.